A discussion about the future of the Metro Red Line and a candid examination of all consumer issues that will result in improved service to the users.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

My Ideas for Extending the subway under Wilshire

I am convinced that we do not need to wait DECADES for the Metro Aqua Line to begin service between Union Station and Santa Monica.

Here are some common-sense ideas:

Metro needs to appoint a "subway czar" who will work full-time on getting this project rolling (I am currently available).

First, the subway should be built just under the roadway surface in the flat stretches of Wilshire. A model for this is the New York City subway under Broadway on the city's upper West Side. No need for deep, time-consuming stairways and escalators. No need for expensive ventilation systems. From the sidewalk, you go down ONE level and there you are, right on the ticketing and platform level. SIMPLE.

Second, the cities of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica should pay for the construction of stations within their boundaries. As a result, the stations will be OWNED by the cities and they will be responsible for their upkeep and development. Imagine a city like Santa Monica hiring a celebrity architect like Frank Gehry to design it's station near the Third Street Promenade!

Third, Stations do not need to be fully finished and DECORATED in order to begin service; all of that finishing work can done AFTER revenue service begins. Los Angeles, for example, can build bare-bones stations and later have developers finish the stations that will serve their developments.

The three cities (especially L.A.) must relax height and density limits around the bare-bones stations to attract developers. The development that is currently under construction on top of the Wilshire/Vermont station is TOO short and not dense enough.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

URGENT ACTION ALERT: Service Hours Chopped!

Span-of-Service Hours Cuts Hit Metro Rail Users

Metro's latest secret
In an attempt to balance the MTA budget, Metro staff has quietly acted to reduce span-of-service hours on the Metro Red, Gold and Green lines by an hour (the last hour of the night) on each line.

Eliminating the last three trips on the Red Line between Union Station and Wilshire/Western, for example, amounts to cutting hours on the rail network which will impact people who will not be able to get home from their jobs late at night.

Below the radar screen
This service cut does not have to go through the public hearing process because it does not meet the legal requirement that triggers a hearing.

The Transit Coalition
is strongly opposed to taking service away from the the rail network because of the negative impact on people who are trying to get to/from home/work at that hour of the evening.

Your action is needed now to prevent this Rail Service Removal Plan from happening. Please call and/or write to the MTA Board of Directors and tell them that you oppose the taking away the last hour of service from the rail network.

You can e-mail the entire MTA Board or you can phone or fax them. Please act!

Read the complete details:
Los Angeles Times article - Thursday, May 12, 2005:
MTA to End Some Midnight Runs
Los Angeles Times letter - Tuesday, May 10, 2005:
Fewer Trains Mean More Traffic Headaches
Los Angeles Daily News OpEd piece - Thursday, May 12, 2005:
Angelenos ride trains in Paris -- why not here?


Sunday, May 01, 2005

Subway Signage Missing in Action

Red Line Street Signage (or lack thereof)
at Union Station and at 7th St. / Metro Center

by Tom Stanley

We who live in Los Angeles and take the Metro Red Line know where to find the entrances to the 7th Street/Metro Center and Union Station subway stations, but what about tourists and Angelenos who have never taken the subway?

A tourist at Olvera Street has no way of knowing that there is a subway station inside Union Station. The Art Deco pylons at the Alameda Street entrance to Union Station announce Metrolink and Amtrak, but do not list the Metro Red Line.

Some time ago, I emailed Catellus (the owner of Union Station)(a famous Parkinson building) about this and received a reply that basically amounted to nothing.

Some other Union Station opinions, views, descriptions and history.

Why doesn't Metro work with Catellus and put one of those new station entrance sign pylons on Alameda Street? It's a no-brainer that better signage attracts more customers.

The situation is worse at the 7th Street/Metro Center subway station in the heart of the downtown Financial District. There, the original Metro pylons have been removed and there is not a single street-level sign at any of the three station entrances. What's going on here?

A subway system with a station called "Metro CENTER" has no street signage?
After the original 7th Street pylons were removed some time ago, I patiently waited for new, better signage to go up. So far, nothing.

Whenever I go down into the Metro Center station, I always see bewildered people trying to figure out which train to take. To me, it's amazing that they even found the station!

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Pre MetroRail: The Red Car Tunnel

Red Car enters PE Tunnel c.1950's
(Bill Volkmer Photo)

H.L. Arledge, Fresno, CA writes us and asks:

Hi: I'm a history buff. Can you tell me whether the old Red Car subway tunnel that closed in the 1960s has been reopened as part of the current transit system? Thanks, H.L. Arledge

Downtown's forgotten tunnel
(Los Angeles' underground subway built in 1925)
Los Angeles Business Journal
November 25, 1991 - Volume: v13 - Issue: n47 - Page: p1
by Benjamin Mark Cole

Some assert Los Angeles should take a new look at its first subway (circa '25)

I am 60 feet below the streets of downtown Los Angeles, 2,500 feet from the nearest exit, and pond-side.

I am in Los Angeles' first subway, built in 1925 by Pacific Electric, but abandoned 30 years later in deference to the auto age. Having snuck through a two-foot hole in a chainlink fence at the tunnel's entrance, I am alone.

Armed only with a Eveready Energizer emergency roadside flashlight -- a gift from an ex-girlfriend and loaded with years-old batteries -- I curse my wingtip shoes, which serve poorly in the rocky gook underfoot. I ease my way down a slimy slope to the pond's edge, to satisfy an insistent amateur biologist's curiosity: Is there life in this pond?

The pool, which is the width of the city-owned tunnel -- 28 feet -- is about three feet deep and eight across, and at the tunnel's end, abutting the Westin Bonaventure hotel. Before the hotel was built in 1975, the foundation was sunk through the old tunnel, blocking it where I stand.

If I could walk through the blockade and then on about another 2,500 feet, I would reach the Subway Terminal Building on Pershing Square, an office building built in 1928 over the subway's original terminus.

Back at pond's edge, the water looks crystal clear and is fed by two small streams. Despite the inflow, the pond's level appears stable.

A dimming flashlight perhaps reveals an answer to the pond's sterility. There, on a small earth embankment on the other side of the pond -- and one-half mile from the tunnel's sole entrance -- is an oozing automobile battery, draining into the pond. The battery could only have been carried here by hand.

I have come as far as I can, and I am eager to leave. Water is dripping from the semi-circular 22-foot-high ceiling, and it has just dawned on me that Los Angeles is a city of methane gas, and that oil wells still pump crude only blocks away.

Tunnel literature had mentioned special fans used to vent dangerous gasses back in 1925, when three shifts of 215 men each worked on the subway's construction. I don't even have a parakeet.

Walking back towards the tunnel entrance, I see little reminder that this subway for 30 years carried Red Car trollies, full of Glendalians and other travelers heading downtown. It cut 15 minutes off the downtown commute in those days.

The Red Cars went underground at the same entrance I used, near the intersection of Glendale Boulevard and Second Street, before going the last mile underground to downtown.

The Red Car system, at one time the largest intra-urban transit system on the globe, was getting crowded by itself and the auto back in the mid-1920s, provoking the tunnel-building.

An article in the Dec. 10, 1925 issue of the Pacific Electric magazine said, "The subject of subways and elevated tracks as a means of rapid transit in the City of Los Angeles is by no means a new one in the minds of the officials of the Pacific Electric Railway, as the purchase of right of way some 10 years ago for subways to serve West Coast Beaches, and also the northwest territory of the City of Los Angeles, bears out."

The tunnel was built in 18 months, from first shovel-stroke to train whistle.

But today, nowhere are the old Red Cars, and even the tracks are gone. Light fixtures have been ripped out. The floor is wet dirt, stony in parts.

Why is the tunnel so unused, in a city -- particularly a downtown -- where every square foot seems valuable?

"Because nothing happens unless the politicians get money," charges Tye Rubins, who owns a 2.5-acre parcel at the tunnel's mouth. "This is a $60 million resource that's going to waste."

By Rubins' reckoning, the old PE tunnel today should conduit mini-buses into downtown, from an urban village in "Central City West," the area of razed blocks of land west of the Harbor Freeway from downtown.

He is willing to give the city one acre at the mouth of tunnel, if only it were reopened. He figures to profit on skyrocketing land values after the tunnel opens.

"The mini-buses could go into downtown," Rubins exclaims. "It's a win-win for everybody."

He says the PE tunnel could be made to open up at Fourth and Figueroa streets downtown.

Rubins believes the city Community Redevelopment Agency is against the reopening of the PE tunnel because it would promote development west of the Harbor Freeway -- outside the CRA's tax zone, which encompasses downtown proper, east of the Harbor Freeway. (The CRA gets its money by collecting property taxes on new buildings built within its territory.)

"They (the CRA) have undermined development outside the CRA tax increment zone," says Rubins, 47, now semi-retired on the basis of profits made in real estate development.

As it turns out, various local officials are again scratching their heads as to how to use the PE tunnel, as they have been doing on and off since it was closed.

A 1975 study, by the city's street opening and widening division, talked about a people-mover in the tunnel, and today officials wonder if, in fact, Rubins' plan makes sense.

"It does cross the freeway and would connect Central City West to downtown," says James Okazaki, senior transportation engineer in the city's rail transit division. "Why not use it? I walked in the tunnel about a year ago to take a look at it."

The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission has also looked at the tunnel, but has not done much more than cursory studies. Last year the commission gave $10,000 to DKS Associates in downtown Los Angeles to mull the feasibility of reopening the tunnel.

At DKS, they say a re-opened tunnel makes sense.

"We feel there is a potential for re-use. It would be pretty inexpensive to re-open it, given that a new tunnel costs about $75 million a mile to build," says Maurice Mitchell, director of engineering at DKS. "It could run smaller buses or even full-size buses that go one way -- downtown in the a.m. and reverse in the p.m."

But at the CRA, there appears to be skepticism that the tunnel can ever be made to work again. "We have no plans for the tunnel. The question is how you get reconnected back to the surface (from where the tunnel is blocked at the Bonaventure). Also, there are safety question, new earthquake standards," said Steve Andrews, transportation manager for the CRA.

As for me, back in the tunnel, I can now see the tunnel's entrance about 1,000 feet away. Closer to the entrance are two rusty hulks of cars and flotsam from modern-day homeless -- old firesites, collected firewood, trash, bits of furniture, shards of clothing, broken bottles.

It is a crisp fall day outside the mouth of the tunnel, and I can see the purple San Gabriels against the azure sky. Kids are exuberantly spraypainting the old PE station at the tunnel entrance -- spraypaint on top of spraypaint -- and trash is everywhere. I turn my flashlight off and head back to the office, walking through where Red Cars used to clang on by.

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Red Line: Moving Los Angeles Posted by Hello

The Transit Coalition Metro Red Line Project

The purpose of this blog is to open a large public dialogue on the Metro Red Line.

Mission Statement:

The Transit Coalition Metro Red Line Project goal is to create the future, while learning from lessons of the past to produce an efficient transportation system for L.A. County.


L.A. is a world class city which needs continued improvements to sustain mobility and high levels of grass roots citizen involvement to achieve quality transportation enhancements.

There are a host of areas that need be tackled:
  • Many consumer issues need to be addressed collectively
  • Removal of legal prohibitions on tunneling
  • Develop and gather substantial public support
  • Changing the political attitude and climate
  • MTA attention to detail
  • Span of Service Hours to be improved late night / early morning
  • Potential future funding sources for expansion
  • Increased Transit Orientated Development around stations
  • Better public communications
  • Increased parking at stations
  • Direct access via elevator / escalator to / from Red / Gold Lines
  • Direct access via portal to / from Orange / Red Lines
  • Increased service frequency to / from Hollywood / S.F. Valley
  • Improved bus / rail connections
  • Improved bus information systems / maps / schedules
  • Elevator / escalator maintenance
  • System security
  • Station signage including train arrivals
  • Removal of bicycle restrictions
  • Barrier free system versus gate access
  • Smart cards (Universal Fare Cards) / TAP (Transit Access Pass)
The current Transit Coalition Metro Red Line Project website.
The current Transit Coalition Metro Red Line discussion board.
The historical Transit Coalition Friends of the Red Line website.

Our goal is to see improved public transportation in Southern California that will result in a continuous expansion of our rail and bus system.